Vegan cooking has intimidated me ever since The Oreo Incident.
Last year, upon learning that the popular sandwich cookie was no longer made with whey, I eagerly shot a tutorial for baking vegan-friendly cookies and “cream” truffles and uploaded it to YouTube. Within days, a few viewers with a penchant for typing in all caps informed me that Nabisco doesn’t reveal where its sugar comes from, making it unclear whether the granules are filtered using bone char. My truffles were boycotted faster than a clubbed seal sandwich.
That’s why, when two vegan friends invited me to their apartment-warming party last Friday, I made a vow: I’d bring a dish that sparked conversation, but not because its ingredients were questionably offensive. I’d bring a treat that doesn’t require a recipe.
I’d bring a horned melon.
My fiancé — the saner one in this duo — brought a watermelon, which we shared with the group first. People casually commented on how much they enjoyed a slice on such a balmy summer evening, but the conversation halted as soon as I plucked my Nerf ball-esque fruit out of the shopping bag.
“What the heck is that?” a friend asked, getting up from his chair to take a closer look.
“Doesn’t it look like it’s from another planet?” my fiancé said. “You’d expect it to be hard, but the skin is kind of waxy and soft.”
A debate ensued over how to eat the fruit — could you just bite into it, like an apple? Or should one slice it, like a cantaloupe? We turned to YouTube and watched a small boy cut the melon — which is also known as a kiwano or jelly melon — in half and scoop out its innards with a spoon. Gasps erupted when we saw the melon split open. The insides looked like a science experiment gone wrong. There were a bunch of seeded pods, but they were a radioactive shade of green, like Flubber or lime Jell-O.
After cutting the melon into 10 slices, we each took a piece. Sure enough, it was just as bright a green as in the video, but we noticed something the tutorial left out: The melon’s flesh smelled like freshly mowed grass. On the count of three, we bit into it.
“I’m done,” one guest announced immediately.
At first, the jelly-like seeds tasted like cucumber, but they soon mellowed into a sweet, banana flavor with a hint of lemon. It wriggled down our throats and left a slick film in our mouths — even after downing a glass of water.
“I don’t know what you guys are complaining about,” said Alex, our host, as he reached for another slice. “It’s kind of refreshing. I like it.”
My foray into vegan potlucks was definitely a cop-out, but I consider it a baby step. After all, no animals were harmed in the making of this appetizer.